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The COVID-19 pandemic has proved challenging for restaurants, with operators struggling to navigate continuously shifting questions about staff support, finances, safety, and retooling to meet consumer needs. A restaurant’s return to patio or indoor service might look different depending on its business model, and for fine dining, where the high-end menu is just one part of the overall experience, the path to reopening is uniquely complex.

Jelmer Assink / Unsplash

Today on Stateside, we’re checking in with the owner of a gym and personal training facility to see how he’s approaching reopening in light of an appeals court decision upholding Governor Whitmer’s order to keep gyms closed to limit the spread of COVID-19 yesterday. Also, a conversation with Jim Toy, who has been at the forefront of the fight for LGBTQ rights in Michigan for more than five decades.

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Today on Stateside, more Michigan businesses reopen, including some bars and restaurants. A bartender weighs in on some service industry workers’ concerns. Also, two Black American journalists discuss covering protests against police brutality, during a pandemic, in a field dominated by white reporters and editors. Plus, an artist collective based up north relaunches.

Courtesy of Patrick Echlin

It’s a hot day to be laying brick, but Patrick Echlin is working on the patio at 734 Brewing Company in Ypsilanti. He and his co-owners celebrated the brewery’s second anniversary just last week, amidst very different circumstances than when they opened. 

 

Courtesy of the State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay in Traverse City

After being shut down for nearly two months, restaurants in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan received permission from the governor to allow sit-down dining at limited capacity just in time for Memorial Day. Some welcomed the flood of tourists for the busy holiday weekend, but others erred on the side of caution and are sticking to takeout-only service for a while longer.

an empty row of tables at a restaurant
Andrew Seaman / Unsplash

Just one day after Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended her stay at home order until May 28th, the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association released its plan for reopening restaurants. 

The group said restaurants are still hoping to open up on May 29. 

The 26-page plan includes details about how to maintain social distance in restaurants as well as guidance on where to purchase face masks for employees. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state is helping restaurants, bars, and hotels that have been effectively closed down for the most part by the COVID-19 pandemic. That help ranges from deferred taxes, to loans, to the idea of buying back liquor.

Restaurants and bars buy liquor from the state. Getting ready for March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day, they really stocked up. Now, because they were ordered by the government to close to the public, that alcohol is just sitting on the shelf. The state is considering buying back the last 30 days of purchases.

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Starting at 3 p.m. Monday, many businesses in Michigan will temporarily close.

a waiter holds a plate of food
Louis Hansel / Unsplash

 


Today on Stateside, between anemic state funding and fewer people in the classroom, many of Michigan’s public universities are facing challenging times. Plus, a new initiative at the University of Michigan looks to provide evidence-based training on how to prevent school violence.

French fries
HopCat

A Michigan-based bar and restaurant chain plans to change the name of its "Crack Fries" in January to distance itself from a name associated with a drug epidemic.

A post on HopCat's website by BarFly Ventures CEO Mark Gray says the recipe and ingredients of its seasoned fries will stay the same.

Courtesy of Tunde Wey

It’s easy to picture “comfort food,” but what about “discomfort food?”

That’s what Tunde Wey will be serving up in the pop-restaurant Saartj, running from May 2 to May 5 inside the community space Bank Suey in Hamtramck.

SAM CORDEN

The Crystal Café in Benzonia has been a popular breakfast spot for 20 years. The restaurant serves standard diner fare like corned beef hash, but also gets creative with dishes like Hawaiian omelets and bread pudding French toast.

Thomas Wright is the new owner of Crystal Café, but just a year ago, he was a server here. He moved north from Ann Arbor with his fiancé, and they were enjoying the Up North life and planning their wedding.

Then, last summer, out of the blue, the owners of the café said they wanted out of the business.

MORGAN SPRINGER / Interlochen Public Radio

In Traverse City’s East Bay, on the busy hotel strip on U.S. 31, is Don’s Drive In. The pink and turquoise restaurant is known for its burgers and shakes and the fact that it’s kind of old school.


Detroit skyline
Debbie Malyn / creative commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There's been a great effort to revitalize Detroit in recent years, but new figures from the US Census Bureau show the city is still losing population. This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about what it's going to take for Detroit to see some growth.

A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association shows that 27% of restaurant owners say recruiting and retaining employees is their No. 1 problem.
Strangely-Brown / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Restaurants depend on immigrants. Nationally, nearly one in five restaurant employees are foreign born. So what could President Trump's new immigration policies mean for the workers, and ultimately for the food service industry?

"The traditional classroom style was not the best way to teach this type of information ... Once the guys were able to see hands on what it meant to run a business using the food truck as a classroom, it completely changed what they thought," Harris said.
Steven Depolo / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Next Idea

The Skillman Foundation has awarded $50,000 each to six different programs in connection with the My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Innovation Challenge.

One of the six is Giving Them the Business. The goal is to teach young men of color to be owners and operators of restaurants, not just hired help, according to a release from the foundation.

Jerrell Harris coordinates Giving Them the Business. He joined us today.

Courtesy of Micheline Maynard/Forbes Media

Two-thirds of all restaurants will fail within three years of first opening their doors, a statistic that could be attributed to an owner’s desire for expansion only after a few months of profits.

“Hometown Holdouts” is a new e-book that breaks down the success of businesses that chose to stay local, despite nationwide recognition. Author Micheline Maynard says "hometown holdouts" benefit their communities, and resist the pressure to expand.

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Michigan restaurant-goers may soon be able to dine with their dogs.

A Senate committee approved a bill that would give restaurant owners the option to allow dogs on their patios.

Margaret O'Brien sponsored the bill.

She says states like New York, California and Florida have similar laws already and have had few to no issues with dogs being at restaurants.

O'Brien says the restaurant owners have final say in dogs being allowed.

 

Steph Harding / Steph Harding Photo

There's a difference between making your business the best in the world and making it the best for the world.

Recognizing that difference is what has earned the Grand Rapids-based Essence Restaurant Group a B Corp certification.

This certification is what USDA Organic is to milk, or Fair Trade is to coffee. The designation goes to companies that show a commitment to sustainability and positive social impact in their communities. 

The Essence Restaurant Group has become the very first restaurant group in the country to earn the B Corp certification.

Chef James Rigato
Joe Vaughn

Anyone in the restaurant business or any regular viewer of Top Chef can tell you that it doesn’t get much bigger than winning a James Beard Foundation Award. College football has the Heisman Trophy, Hollywood has the Oscars, but for chefs, just getting a nomination for a James Beard Award can make a career.

Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

Mark Masters of TDM Realtors in Flint says it's hard to keep tenants and even harder to attract new ones.

"I mean one of the first questions I get, it used to be 'is that a good neighborhood' and now it’s 'is that Flint water,'" said Masters.

Last spring he started getting calls from some of the company’s 300 renters that something wasn’t right with their water.

Izumi Japanese Restaurant / Flickr Creative Commons / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Business is slower than usual for some restaurants in Flint, and owners say it's because of the water crisis.

Scott Ellis is the executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bars, restaurants and taverns.

He says he has heard concerns from many restaurant owners about the impact of the ongoing emergency.

"First of all, business is down," Ellis said. "They're using Flint water, they're afraid if all the precautions were taken to make the water clean."

Sarah Welch, executive chef at Republic Tavern in Detroit
Sarah Welch

A recent Washington Post story declares that “one of the country’s poorest cities is suddenly becoming a food mecca.”

It highlights the growing scene of young chefs and restaurateurs setting up shop in Detroit.

Sarah Welch is one of them. She’s the executive chef at Republic Tavern, located in the restored castle-like Grand Army of the Republic building in Detroit.

Many local MIchigan restaurants give back to their communities by providing free meals on Thanksgiving.
Satya Murthy / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Many family-owned businesses across the state provide free turkey meals to local patrons to help give back to their communities. Michigan Radio spoke with a few owners of these restaurants and created a map to make note of the rest. 

Historical Society of Greater Lansing

When the Historical Society of Greater Lansing hosted an oral history with the owner of Lansing's longstanding Jim's Tiffany restaurant, more than 80 people showed up to listen.

ipad using point of sale application
Flickr user Nicolas Nova / Flickr

Technology invades the restaurant dining experience. No, not diners posting photos of their food to Facebook or Instagram, but restaurants in Michigan are replacing their old-school paper menus with iPads.

Chief wine and restaurant critic for Hour Detroit Magazine Chris Cook says, "I haven't seen too many around Southeast Michigan, but I think it's going to become a growing trend."

Executive Chef James Rigato at work at The Root
David Lewinski

In a few short years, executive chef James Rigato of The Root in White Lake has made huge waves in the Michigan culinary scene. In 2012, during its very first year of business, The Root won the prestigious "Restaurant of the Year" award from the Detroit Free Press. Since then, Rigato has continued to earn recognition for his work, winning local accolades and competing on the Food Network's show Top Chef.

Health officials suspect undercooked ground beef.
user i believe i can fry / Flickr

State health officials say they're working with health departments in Kent, Livingston, Oakland, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties to investigate a cluster of recent illnesses due to the bacteria E. coli O157.

The state Department of Community Health and the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced Wednesday that the suspected source of the bacteria is ground beef.

More from the MDCH press release:

The Justice Department is investigating General Motors for delaying a recall of more than a million and a half cars. On today's show: how is this recall affecting GM's reputation?

And, a new Michigan law will now allow you to literally BYOB, bring you own bottle of wine to a restaurant.

Also, starting a business can be hard, but what about starting a business with a mission to help end homelessness? That's exactly what the Empowerment Plan aims to do. 

First on the show, Rick Pluta, Captiol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network and co-host of It's Just Politics, joined us to talk about how Lansing plans to spend surplus money.

Three wine bottles from the neck up.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new Michigan law will now allow you to literally BYOB, bring your own bottle of wine to a restaurant. Chris is the Chief Restaurant Critic and Wine Writer at Hour Magazine, and he joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

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